Thailand Bolsters Flood Defenses
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ordered authorities in Bangkok to bolster flood defenses as the nation’s worst deluge in more than 50 years threatens to inundate the capital over the next few days.
At least 269 people have been killed as a result of the seasonal monsoon rains that have hit the country since July 25, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said on its website today. About 30 of Thailand’s 77 provinces remain underwater, the agency said.
Floodwaters that shut down factories operated by Honda Motor Co., Nikon Corp. and Canon Inc. over the weekend will reach Bangkok later this week, said Yingluck, who conceded that her two-month-old administration is struggling to respond to the crisis. The city of more than 6 million people is less than 2 meters above sea level, making its susceptible to flooding.
“We will make sure the water doesn’t break in to Bangkok,” said Yingluck, who canceled visits to Malaysia and Singapore this week to oversee the government’s response to the disaster. “We need to prioritize the city center and economic zones by checking that all flood barriers are strong enough,” she said at a media briefing yesterday in Bangkok.
Seasonal storms have affected more than 6 million people in Southeast Asia and claimed a further 224 lives in Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines, the United Nations said last week. In Thailand, economic losses may reach 130 billion baht ($4.2 billion) and cut economic growth by as much as 1.3 percentage points, the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, a private institution established by the chamber, said on Oct. 6.
“This will definitely hurt exports in many industries such as textiles, footwear and autos,” Tanit Sorat, vice president of the Federation of Thai Industries, said yesterday by phone. “It will take five to six months to repair flooded plants,” he said, adding that the damage bill will exceed his agency’s initial estimate of as much as 60 billion baht.
The authorities are installing as many as 400 water pumps along the Chao Phraya river that runs through Bangkok and digging canals on the outskirts of the capital, Yingluck said.
“We are rushing to drain water and evacuate people before the seawater peaks,” Yingluck said. “We don’t know how much rain will fall when the new storms arrive. We can’t protect every area.”
In Ayutthaya, 67 kilometers (42 miles) north of Bangkok, rising floodwaters broke through defenses around the Rojana Industrial Park, which is mostly a base for companies making automotive and electronics parts. Nikon, Canon, Hitachi Metals Ltd. and Siam Cement Pcl (SCC) are among companies with operations in the estate, according to Rojana’s website.
“It’s a crisis there now,” Industry Minister Wannarat Charnnukul said yesterday by phone. “All 198 plants are closed. There is nothing we can do because the water level is higher than barriers.”
Flood barriers are still protecting the nearby Hi-Tech and Bang Pa-In industrial estates, Wannarat said.
“Though their plants are not yet flooded, they can’t operate because their staff can’t come to work and they can’t get raw materials,” said Tanit from the Federation of Thai Industries. “Raw materials imported from overseas are still at ports” because water has severed rail and road links, he said.
Honda has already moved as many as 2,000 cars to Don Muang airport in Bangkok, where the government has set up its flood crisis center, Wannarat said.
“We have to admit that this is more serious than in the past,” Yingluck said Oct. 7 in a nationally televised address. “The government is just a little more than a month old and it is difficult to cope with this situation because the volume of water is exceptionally high.”
High tides that are expected between Oct. 15 and Oct. 17 may exacerbate flooding in the capital, Yingluck said yesterday.
The deluge has displaced almost 3 million people in Thailand since late July and damaged almost 10 percent of rice farms in the biggest exporter of the grain, data from the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives show.
The government will provide as much as 200,000 metric tons of rice from its stockpiles and asked local producers of instant noodles, canned food and water to increase production to prevent shortages amid concern the floods will prompt panic-buying and hoarding, Permanent Secretary for Commerce Yanyong Phuangrach told reporters yesterday.